Sharpies (Australian subculture)
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Sharpies, or Sharps, were members of suburban youth gangs in Australia, most significantly from the 1960s and 1970s. They were particularly prominent in Melbourne, but were also found in Sydney and Perth to lesser extents. Sharpies were known for being violent, although a strict moral code was also evident. The name comes from their focus on looking and dressing "sharp".
Sharpies would often congregate in large numbers, regularly attending live bands at town hall and high school dances and early discos; due to their sheer numbers, they were often perceived as being untouchable by the police. Sharpies were sometimes associated with excessive violence, regularly taking part in fights .
Their dress and dance styles were strongly influenced by the British ska, mod, and skinhead subcultures, and many of the early sharpies were in fact British immigrants, recently arrived as Ten Pound Poms. Common clothing items included Lee or Levi jeans, cardigans, jumpers, and T-shirts—often individually designed by group members—with which they would try to outdo other sharpies by creating the best patterns, colours, and detail.
Mods were an enemy of sharpies, and their gang brawls were reported in the newspapers during 1966. In a 2002 interview, a former sharpie stated that despite the sharpie culture being quite violent — especially as they crossed other gangs' territories on the public transport network — the altercations were restricted to inter-gang rivalries.
The sharpies' subculture faded out partly due to mistrust and violence between different gangs, as well as due changes in society. With the rise of the Saturday Night Fever disco culture, the sharpies had to adapt their ways to fit in with the new social norms of the youth of the time. Apart from disco, some drifted into the live punk/new wave scene which emerged from Brisbane, Sydney and the UK and which arrived in Melbourne from around 1978 onwards. La Femme, a band consisting of former Sharps attracted many ex-sharpies in its following with this new genre of music and fashion of the time.
Sharpies in popular culture
- Sharpies (1974) is a film by Greg Macainsh
- Photographer Rennie Ellis has included portraits of sharpies in his works
- Magda Szubanski, in her early years as a comedian on The D-Generation and Fast Forward, played a character who dressed in sharpie style, and performed a sharpie dance which bears a strong resemblance to skanking
- Queeny (1994), Deep (1997), and Suburban Warriors (2003) are short films by Rebecca McLean related to sharpies
- Blackburn South Sharpies' member Greg Robertson curated Sharpies, a photographic exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney in 2001–02, and also as part of the 2002 Melbourne International Fashion Festival
- Blackburn South Sharpies' member Larry Jenkins also photographically documented this gang
- The Australian Broadcasting Corporation featured sharpies in a 2002 episode of George Negus' New Dimensions In Time
- Photographer Carol Jerrems studied the sharpie subculture
- Levi released "Levi's Black Sharps", a denim range inspired by sharpies
- Top Fellas: The Story of Melbourne's Sharpie Cult is a 2004 book by Tadhg Taylor on Melbourne's sharpies
- Rage: A Sharpie's Journal Melbourne 1974–1980 is a 2010 book by Julie Mac on Melbourne's sharpies
- "Out With The Boys: The Sharpie Days" is a 2011 book by the Seagull about the Sydney Sharpies of the 1960s
- Once Were Sharps: The colourful life and times of the Thomastown Sharps is a book by Nick Tolewski, written by Dean Crozier
- A resurgence of interest in the Sharpie sub-culture in recent times included Skins'n'Sharps Exhibitions in 2006 (Dante's Gallery, Fitzroy) and 2010 (Kustom Lane Gallery, Hawthorn) and a dedicated website Skins'n'Sharps
- Negus, George (18 March 2002). "The Sharpies – Cult Gangs of the Sixties and Seventies". New Dimensions in Time. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
- Ellis, Rennie (2008). "Sharpies, Melbourne 1973". Official website – Portraits. Rennie Ellis Photographic Archive. Retrieved 27 Jan 2013.
- Chad, Jono and Mig, Twig, Beatie and Whitey walking down the street at Blackburn South shops, Larry Jenkins, 1975. State Library of Victoria collection
- Look Sharp! With Levi’s Black Sharps this summer
- Taylor, Tadhg. "Top Fellas". Catalogue. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
- Mac, Julie. "Rage: A Sharpie's Journal Melbourne 1974–1980". Catalogue. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
- Deep - short film by Rebecca McLean that features sharpies